Vacheron Constantin FiftySix Complete Calendar
The grand dame of watchmaking has unveiled a new complete calendar timepiece as part of its also-new FiftySix collection: the FiftySix Complete Calendar. It joins the Harmony Complete Calendar (2016), Historiques Triple Calendrier 1942 and 1948 (2017) and Traditionelle Complete Calendar (2018) in the list of complete calendar watches recently introduced by the brand. The new FiftySix collection is inspired by the vintage Ref. 6073 which was first presented in the year 1956 (hence FiftySix). The Ref. 6073 is distinguished by its shape and notably its lugs, each representing a branch of the Maltese Cross, the brand’s emblem. The FiftySix Complete Calendar, which displays the day, date and month, is a small step up in complexity compared to its sibling, the FiftySix Day-Date, but is just as practical for daily use. Here, we give you the details and our thoughts on Vacheron Constantin’s latest complete calendar watch.
The case, dial and hands
The FiftySix Complete Calendar comes in a 40 mm case in either stainless steel or rose gold. The key design element of the case is in the lugs, which resemble the four branches of the Maltese Cross. They are not quite as pronounced as those on the Ref. 6073 as they flow seamlessly into the thick flanks of the watch. This gives the Complete Calendar a sportier, less antiquated look (which can be good or bad depending on taste). Another bridge between the past and the present can be seen in the old-school box-type crystal rising well above the bezel. Historically in plexiglass or mineral glass, the crystal is now in sapphire which is far more scratch-resistant. This also contributes to the retro-contemporary vibe that the FiftySix collection appears to be aiming for.
The Complete Calendar, as the highlight of the FiftySix collection, has the best-looking dial of the lot. While it shares the opaline/sunburst-finished sector-type dial with the other watches in the collection, the triple calendar display on the dial gives the Complete Calendar a more interesting, sophisticated look by comparison. The two rectangular apertures at 12 o’clock indicate the day of the week and month as legibly as possible. On the opposite end at 6 o’clock, a bosom-style moon phase display adds colour and poetry to an otherwise pragmatic dial. In terms of aesthetics, the display is relatively austere, with a polished 18 k gold moon set in front of a simple blue backdrop – no stars or other adornments. That said, this is no plebeian moon phase indicator as it is highly precise and only requires adjustment once every 122 years. The date is displayed in a radial manner outboard of the hours, on a track that is adorned with fine guilloche that adds to the visual texture of the dial. Both the time and date are indicated centrally: lume-coated pencil hands to indicate the hours and minutes, a lancet-style hand for the sweep seconds, and a blued arrow hand for the date.
Housed inside the FiftySix Complete Calendar is the 308-part, 27-jewel, in-house manufactured Calibre 2460 QCL/1. The self-winding movement operates at a modern 4 Hz beat rate with a maximum power reserve of approximately 40 hours. Stamped with the Hallmark of Geneva, the movement is finished to superlative standards. The usual suspects are visible through the sapphire crystal case back: textural Côtes de Genève, polished chamfers on the edges of bridges, tight and even perlage on the base plate, and black-polished screw heads, among others. The winding rotor is a work of art in its own right. Adorned with the Maltese Cross emblem, it showcases a triumvirate of surface finishing: sandblasting, straight graining, and mirror polishing. The openworking is tastefully executed and attractive, and ensures maximum visibility of the Calibre 2460 QCL/1 behind it.
The competitive landscape
Up until recently, the complete calendar was a rarity in Vacheron Constantin’s modern timepieces. The complete calendar represents a value proposition for clients who want a calendar display (or at least the look of it) but do not necessarily wish to pay for the premium of annual and perpetual calendars. At USD21,600 (SGD31,700) for the steel version and USD35,800 (SGD52,400) for the pink gold version, the FiftySix Complete Calendar is one of the most affordable complete calendar watch (with a moon phase display) in the brand’s catalogue. Interestingly, it is priced very similarly to the Historiques 1948, a Vacheron Constantin novelty that was very well-received by the community and is limited to 200 pieces. The main differences between the FiftySix Complete Calendar and the Historiques 1948 are in design (retro-modern v.s. pure vintage), the seconds display (central v.s. subsidiary) and the mode of winding (automatic v.s. manual).
Compared to the Harmony Complete Calendar, the price discrepancy is more palpable. At around USD41,000 (SGD63,000), it is about 20% more expensive than the FiftySix Complete Calendar in rose gold. This difference is present in spite of the fact that both timepieces share what is essentially the same movement: the Calibre 2460 QCL. Since design appears to be the only distinguishing factor, it can be deduced that the brand is targeting a younger clientele (with the FiftySix Complete Calendar) by offering the complete calendar complication in a more modern packaging along with a more accessible stainless steel option.
Moving outside of the brand while remaining under the Richemont umbrella, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Calendar Meteorite strikes (pun not intended) as a tantalising alternative to the FiftySix Complete Calendar. The Master Calendar Meteorite is a mid-20th century triple calendar-style watch with a cosmic twist – a dial made of meteorite. This gives what is supposed to be a classical watch a unique, contemporary visage. Beating inside the Master Calendar Meteorite is the self-winding Calibre 866. While it is a solid, well-constructed movement, a significant portion of the Calibre 866 is finished and decorated by machine. The lack of hand-finishing allows the watch to be priced somewhat aggressively at SGD18,100 for the steel version and SGD35,100 for the rose gold version, around 40% less than its Vacheron Constantin counterparts. Design preference notwithstanding, whether or not one should pay the premium for the FiftySix Complete Calendar rests on how much one values superior (hand) finishing and to some extent, brand prestige.
The introduction of the FiftySix collection is likely a move to attract a broader, younger audience. While it is the ultra-complicated, ultra-extravagant timepieces that mesmerise the watch cognoscenti, it is the simpler, ‘entry-level’ timepieces like the ones from the FiftySix collection that pay the bills. Unfortunately, it is likely not a move that comes without repercussions. Vacheron Constantin has a burgeoning collection, and now with the addition of the FiftySix, it runs the risk of diluting its own identity. Will the introduction of the FiftySix collection help foster the brand’s future or will it prove to be a step backwards? Only time will tell.